I am MARCHING through March (see why here).
Even though we usually march looking forward, I’m inclined to look back a lot. I think it’s essential to see how things fit together, how the pieces slowly fall and I can nod my head a bit, understanding a little more than I did yesterday.
I’ve been struggling to name the good bits of Annie’s death. You know, the things that have happened as a result of our gut wrenching pain. I don’t always know how to categorize those things very well. When I hear of someone who is changed as a result of Annie, I find myself caught in a mental list of pros and cons. I wonder, will the pros ever outweigh the one con: Our empty arms? And then my Pollyanna tendencies take over and I pep talk my way into counting blessings, because it really is quite amazing to watch God work in the midst of our sorrow. Back and forth I go, around and around in my head.
Which is why I loved stumbling on this article this week: The Sightless, Wordless, Helpless Theologian by Marshall Shelley.
It’s not that he stopped the ping ponging in my head, but God used him to bring the ping ponging under control.
When Peter and I were in Ecuador with Compassion International, one of the first places they took us was to a church with the Child Survival Program, filled with Mamas (very young mamas!) and their babies. As we pulled up and started to unload, I was filled with emotion. Our guides told us that it was important for us to love these people– to hug them and hold their babies and show them that we valued them. And I responded with quick tears in my eyes. I didn’t understand my reaction, it was surprising to me, but nonetheless, I walked through the line of these Moms and I hugged them and kissed the babies and I couldn’t help it . . . I saw Annie in each little face. By the end of the line I was sobbing. I could not hold it together. I had a firm conviction that God was putting some pieces of the puzzle together, but it was a mystery.
I have to tell you that God has been working on my heart and I have been doing a lot of pondering on the word Grace. What is it? What does it mean? What is the scope of it?
John Wesley did a lot of writing on grace and he had a term he called “prevenient grace”, or “the grace that goes before”. Specifically, he was talking about the way that God is leading a person as they draw closer to a relationship with Him. The work that Christ does before the salvation experience, if you will.
But I’ve been thinking about that phrase, “the grace that goes before” and I shake my head when I think of all the ways Christ works in my life when I had no idea. I see such a small slice of my own life, and sometimes I forget that He works in the bigger story.
How else do you explain my reaction of tears on that day four months ago when I walked through that line of young mothers and babies? I was overcome with grief. All day I was a mess. And I couldn’t really explain it.
That is, until a few weeks ago when Peter got this email from the leader on our trip. We had asked him to do a bit of detective work for us. When Annie died, we set up a memorial fund through Compassion, but we didn’t know specifically where the money had gone. It wasn’t until the trip that we realized we could probably find out.
Sorry to fill up your inbox.. but I was able to track down the information you requested. Your First Giving webpage is actually still live. To date Annie has raised $4320.00 for the Child Survival Program. Her legacy lives on in the lives of moms and their babies and one day we will all rejoice to see all the lives that her life touched.You, Sarah and family are loved and admired!Sean
Just reading that again causes tears to stream down my face. Because I flash back to those Moms and I see the hope in their faces, a hope because of Jesus. I see them having a purpose in their life and joy. I see those children and I feel their sticky little skin. And I know that there are moms and babies who are alive today because of gifts others gave in honor of my girl. I cannot believe that we get to be part of their story.
I have no doubt that on that day my tears were a gift. Grace that went before my knowledge of the whole picture. How is it that I have been so blessed to see so much of this?
We like to package up life in neat little boxes, tied with bows. We love a good, happy ending. Yet we all know life isn’t like that at all. So I’ve hesitated to share this story, fearing that it could become the quintessential story we all long for . . . because the truth is that I will always long for my baby and wish that I had her in my arms. And yet it doesn’t negate the redemption to this story.
Marshall Shelley says in his article,
“We had no easy answers [regarding the death of my daughter], but for all these questions, the only answers that came close to making any sense at all were spiritual: God’s unexplainable but eternal purposes, a new understanding of what’s truly significant, the hope of the resurrection, and the strength that comes from God’s people.We began to see the power of the powerless.“